Saints Nation: Scouting the Panthers

The Saints will come into Carolina to face the 0-1 Panthers as both teams will try to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start. In fact, the Panthers may be even more desperate for a win because a loss would already signal their second divisional loss after they dropped their opener in Tampa to the Bucs. Being 0-2 is bad enough, but suffering both losses to direct competition for a divisonal crown would hurt their season dramatically. For the Saints, a rebound coming off such a dreadful showing at home is a must, with added importance going against a divisional opponent. The Saints swept the Panthers last season, but the game in Carolina ended 30-27 and came down to the end. Both teams are of course very familiar with each other and it will be less about surprises (like the Redskins game, perhaps) and more about who executes better. Here is my scouting report on the Panthers:

OFFENSE:

Cam Newton is still the quarterback and he certainly had a lot of buzz going on about him heading into the season. His day against the Bucs last Sunday wasn’t a very good one, though, so he’s looking to rebound much like Brees. Newton is a bigger threat to run than RGIII was last week not because he’s more capable, but because he’s more willing. While he’s not as fast, he’s definitely stronger and more physical. From a passing standpoint, I have not seen the pinpoint accuracy on short passes from Newton that I saw from RGIII last week, but he’s got a stronger arm. So while there’s been a lot of comparisons and both are extraordinary athletes, I don’t think they are exact replicas in style. While they both have elite escapability in the pocket, I think the notion we’ve heard this week that playing RGIII is good preparation for Cam Newton is slightly misguided. Still, with a poor pass rush and a quarterback that can extend the play, it will once again put pressure on the Saints’ depleted cornerbacks to cover the Panther receivers that much longer. Not a good thing. The Panthers’ O-line is a bit suspect, especially in the interior. Left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil are solid, but their guards and right tackle Byron Bell are mediocre. It’s another good matchup for Brodrick Bunkley, Sedrick Ellis and Cam Jordan. The Panthers still have DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Steve Smith as their key playmakers on offense – guys that have hurt the Saints over the years that we are all too familiar with. They are aging and I question if those guys are in their prime anymore, but it represents an upgrade over the playmakers the Saints faced last week that burned them for 40 points, so beware. Beyond that they have Greg Olsen, a scary matchup for Roman Harper in coverage, Brandon LaFell of LSU who looked good last week, and Mike Tolbert as a power runner from the Chargers. It’s an aging offense around Cam Newton but a capable one. Hopefully they can struggle as much as last week but if the Saints’ defense doesn’t improve it could get ugly. The one positive we saw from the Saints last week in my opinion was their run defense, and that’s what makes the Panthers’ offense go, so if you are looking for silver lining it is there. Williams had 6 carries for -1 yards last week and the team rushed 13 times for 10 yards. The Saints will be looking to make the Panthers as one dimensional as the Bucs did.

DEFENSE:

The Panthers return their star middle linebacker Jon Beason who was out for all of last season. He’s a tackling machine and a dangerous playmaker that needs to be accounted for at all times. Chris Gamble is arguably their top defensive back and he lives up to his last name. Like DeAngelo Hall last week, Gamble will make a huge play and then turn around and take an unecessary risk to cost his team. If Drew Brees is on he can expose him. Their defensive line is led by Charles Johnson, a scary and capable up and coming pass rusher that the Saints’ offensive line will have to work hard to contain. If the Saints become as one dimensional as they were last week, Johnson could have a field day. This is a defense you can run on, no doubt about it, as the Bucs finished with 130 yards on 36 carries with a much less capable group of runners. The key for the Saints is to keep Charles Johnson respecting the run threat by being effective on the ground and being committed to the run, and that will open up the passing game where the Panthers’ defensive backs aren’t elite by any means.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Justin Medlock, formerly of UCLA, is the kicker for the Panthers. He was drafted by the Chiefs in the 5th round in 2007 and was a disaster for 2 years in the NFL. After getting cut by four NFL teams without getting much of a chance, Medlock was exiled to Canada. He did transform his career last year by going 49 of 55 on kicks with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That landed him a job back in the NFL, but Medlock has always been extremely inconsistent even during his tenure in Canada prior to last year. In fact, the Panthers are his 10th team in 5 years. It was a bit of a surprise the Panthers let former Saint Olindo Mare go as he was solid last year, and Medlock represents a bit of an enigma. He wasn’t tested last week and I’m hopeful he could choke in a pressure situation. Their punter Brad Nortman is a rookie 6th round pick out of Wisconsin and he was fairly effective in the first game of the season, giving up no return yardage on 5 punts (39.8 yard average, 2 kicks inside 20, no touchbacks). Their returner, rookie Joe Adams, is explosive but also lacks experience. He had ball security issues in preseason which seems to be the standard for young promising explosive returners around the league. So the Panthers are very young and inexperienced on special teams with potential and this is a big advantage for the Saints. We saw the Saints win that phase of the game last week (blocked punt for a TD, good kick coverage, good returns) and this is a mismatch on paper the Saints can exploit again this week.

Andrew Juge

About Andrew Juge

I like the Saints. A lot.

Saints Nation: Scouting the Panthers

This week’s opponent is a familiar foe in the Carolina Panthers. Many experts before the season said the Panthers would be down as they brought in a new head coach and drafted their franchise quarterback but they have been in every game to the end. While there record at 1-3 might not indicate improvements, they have the cornerstones to be a good team in the future . I think this will be a good test for the Saints as they should win but they need to not play down to their competition.

Special Teams

The last remaining player on their inaugural season, John Kasay was released this past offseason leaving a void at kicker for the Panthers. They went out and signed former Saint Olindo Mare to replace Kasey. It’s still early to see if that signing will pan out for the Panthers. One area of concern for the Panthers has to be the punting game as they have had two punts returned for touchdowns this season. The good thing in the Saints favor is the Panthers’ return game is not all that good as they don’t really have a guy who can take it back for touchdowns.

How to take advantage?

First off ,Mr. Sproles do not fair catch, I repeat do not fair catch in this ball game. Darren should have some big returns in this game helping out the offense with some good field position. While I do think the Saints have a big advantage in all three phases of the game Sunday ,wouldn’t it be cool to see the Saints down by two with four seconds left and Kasay lined up to kick a thirty yard field goal to win the game for the Saints? I’m not saying that it will end like that but it would be nice to see Kasay have a good game against his former team.

Defense

The Panther defense was always good year in and year out under former Coach John Fox, so it seemed odd to go out and hire a defensive minded coach in Ron Rivera. It would have made more sense to hire a offensive coach and keep Fox but I guess that is why I am writing this article and not making the decisions for the Panthers. The front seven for the Panthers was said to be the strength of the defense but injures have weakened it somewhat. Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis have gone down with season ending injures leaving a void in stopping the run. I will say the Panthers have two good rush ends in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson so hopefully Charles Brown will be on top of his game this week and not give up any sacks. The secondary has done a good job this season considering it seems like they are in a shootout week in and week out . They are sixth in the league giving up 203 yards a game , I do think after this game that average might go up a little bit maybe around the 275 or 300 range.

How to take advantage?

I read an article this week , I can’t really remember where it was but it talked about how the Saints should run the ball this week because the Panthers were atrocious at stopping the run . Oh yeah, my good buddy Andrew wrote that article this week for the site . He hit it out of the park as usual, just driving his point the Saints have to get the ground game cranking this week as it will help you down the road. The Saints should win this game and in the process should be a better as they are becoming a more balanced team.

Offense

Ok so Newtonmania has taken over the NFL the past four weeks. Cam Newton, a rookie, was the talk of the town after his first game threw for over 400 yards, who out there ever thought that would happen ? Cam in his first four weeks has found a go to receiver in Steve Smith. Most experts thought Steve was finished as deep threat in the league but now he has a quarterback that can get him the ball deep. Over the years ,Steve has torched the Saints but if you think about it those years really the Saints didn’t have anyone to cover him like the Saints can now. The Panthers have a solid combo in the backfield as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are a solid one-two punch as there is in the NFL. I will say the one problem for the Saints defense is the inability to stop the opposing teams tight end and the Panthers have a good one in Greg Olsen. It will be a key Sunday slowing down Olsen because you know the rookie will be looking his way early and often trying to get the offense going.

How to take advantage?

I would say to blitz coming off the plane but Cam Newton is a running threat ,so I would try to mix it up by disguising the coverage and keeping him in the pocket. This game has the feel of a shootout if the defense doesn’t play up to par but I also think rattling the rookie and getting some turnovers could make this game a blowout in the Saints favor. Hopefully the progress the defense has been making the last couple of weeks will continue as they need to play better if they have any shot at making another championship run.

Andrew Juge

About Andrew Juge

I like the Saints. A lot.

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